One of promoter Rodney Berman’s favourite lines is that it took him 20 years to become “an overnight success.”
It’s a smart assessment because while everyone acknowledges him as Africa’s greatest promoter, few realise that he has worked since the mid-1980s to achieve that success.
The sentiment could just as well be applied to Hekkie Budler, the WBA Super champion and IBO minimumweight title-holder who has reigned supreme for five years and is the jewel in the Golden Gloves crown.
Only now is Budler becoming a part of the public consciousness at large. He has always been the very finest of professionals, but he’s taken a long time to become known beyond the inner core of boxing fans.
Indeed, last week alone he was a special guest on both the Robert Marawa Show and Toks ‘n Tjops. International media houses, among them Ring Magazine, ESPN and the UK’s Boxing Monthly, have also sought him out for interviews in recent months.
More recently, the boxer even cracked one expert’s top 10 pound-for-pound list.
After too long, he is finally earning his due.
Budler’s success has been a slow-burn tale, made more difficult by fans’ traditional appetite for bigger fighters. Only now, as he approaches his 14th championship fight, are people beginning to realise that his skills transcend boxing’s lowest weight division.
Budler is 12-1 in title fights and his last 10 opponents have brought with them a combined 219-35-4 record into the ring. Since his last defeat to countryman Gideon Buthelezi in 2011, no-one has come remotely close to wresting the championship belts from him.
When Budler is on a roll, he is a compelling fighter to watch. He puts his punches together with a slick ease, he fights for three minutes of every round and he bosses the ring in the manner a champion ought to. He’s able to slip through the gears effortlessly and sets a furious pace that few opponents are able to match.
“His growth has been remarkable,” said Berman. “He was rough and ready in the early years, but he’s tightened up and become the complete fighter. Plus he’s a tremendous human being . . . I have a lot of time for him.”
Budler puts both his belts on the line at Emperors Palace this weekend. His opponent is fast-handed Byron Rojas of Nicaragua, who is ranked 10th by the WBA.
The smart money is on Budler delivering – again.